Finding safe shelter in Burundi

“We heard a lot of gunshots where we live, in Musaga,” Brice, 7, tells me. “I was scared, I cried all the time.”

Brice is one of more than hundred children currently being temporarily sheltered by a faith-based organization in Burundi’s capital city, Bujumbura. These children are from the neighborhoods in Bujumbura that have been the scenes of the worst clashes between security forces and protestors that started in April 2015.

This drawn-out and heightened insecurity has led some parents to send their children to find refuge – either in the countryside, where things are calmer, or in sheltered neighborhoods of the city.

For many of these children, unlike their parents and older siblings who had experienced the last lengthy civil conflict in Burundi, it is their first experience of violence. “I had never heard gunfire before,” Benjamin, 12, confides. As we chat, he begins tearing up as he remembers the sound. “From our house in Ngagara, we heard non-stop clashes and gunfire all the time. I was afraid.”

Florent, 6, and his brother David, 10, play soccer every day thanks to recreational kits given by UNICEF Photo © UNICEF Burundi/Luthi
Florent, 6, and his brother David, 10, play soccer every day thanks to recreational kits given by UNICEF Photo. © UNICEF Burundi/Luthi

“My family lives in Cibitoke,” says Florent, 6, playing soccer in the center’s large courtyard with his older brother David, 10. “We were very scared. We couldn’t sleep at night.”

As families in Bujumbura anxiously wait for peace to return and for schools to finally reopen, these children – aged as young as four days all the way to 18 years – are finding refuge in this quiet sanctuary with UNICEF support.

UNICEF has provided the center with recreational kits containing games and balls, early childhood kits with drawing materials, buckets and jerry cans for safe storage of clean water, and meals with support from WFP. “We’re so happy to finally be in this peaceful place,” adds David. “And we’re very happy to have received the games and drawing materials. It helps us forget what we’re going through.”

Children at a temporary shelter in Bujumbura use drawing to help them forget what they have gone through  Photo © UNICEF Burundi/Luthi
Children at a temporary shelter in Bujumbura use drawing to help them forget what they have gone through. Photo © UNICEF Burundi/Luthi

Back at the drawing table, Brice furrows his brow and leans over his drawing, carefully tracing the outlines of a car. “Here it’s quiet and I can play with other children. I’m drawing a car, because one day I’d like to be able to drive a car.”

Eliane Luthi is a Communications Specialist with UNICEF in Burundi.

All the children’s names in this story have been changed to protect their identity. Musaga, Ngagara and Cibitoke are all neighborhoods in Bujumbura.

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